Would You Take a Break from Working?

As Kyle is drawing closer to graduating, he’s facing a job transition.  His advisor has offered for him to stay in his current lab as a temporary measure until he finds a postdoctoral position at another university.  Academic labs seem fairly flexible in when personnel come and go so between a flexible end date in his current lab and a flexible start date in his next lab, Kyle could choose to go basically immediately from one job to the next or take a few weeks or months off.


reclining manKyle has expressed a few times now the desire to take some time off from work after he graduates.  He’s getting a bit burned out and wants to rejuvenate before diving into his next multi-year-long project.  I definitely sympathize with this position and as long has he’s secured his postdoc before stopping work in his current lab, I don’t have a philosophical problem with it.  (When I was growing up, my father quit a job before securing his next one, planning to take a few months to remodel our house, and had a lot of trouble finding a job again when the economy took a sudden downturn during his break.  It has been DRILLED INTO ME that I’m never to stop one job without another lined up.)


I also have been thinking recently that I would love to take about a 3-month break from working.  For me it’s not so much the need to relax (a week or two vacation would be quite enough for me) but that I want to build EPF in a way I don’t have time for now.  I can barely keep up with my posting schedule, much less work on the business/back end the way I need to.  I also have a few ideas for (e)books that I’m dying to write and release but again don’t have the time while I’m trying to push toward graduation.  I hope that during my break I would be able to start some passive or at least sustainable streams of income, however small.


So we both have a desire for a sabbatical of sorts from work, though not a permanent one.  We haven’t specifically prepared financially for this possibility.  With our current budget, one of us not working wouldn’t be the end of the world – with a scaled-back lifestyle we would be slightly in the red each month, which we could easily cover out of savings or some side hustles.  So that wouldn’t be so scary/unknown for Kyle’s break before he moves.  But as we don’t know where he’ll be living or what he’ll be earning, we can’t predict if it would be so easy for us to live on his salary alone during my break.  Then again, we do have kind of a ridiculous amount of cash on hand and could repurpose part or all of it to go toward living expenses for a limited period of time.


I’m sure this isn’t the only time in our life that we’ll want to take a little break from work, even before retirement.  At a minimum, I assume we’ll take parental leave (and maybe even some more time) when we have children.  Since we’re not striving for early retirement, it makes sense to me to take opportunities for breaks from work when they come and we can afford it.


Have you ever taken a sabbatical from your job or a break between jobs?  If you were to take a break, how long would it be and what would you do?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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42 Responses to "Would You Take a Break from Working?"

  1. Cash Rebel says:

    I’ve always taken a few weeks off between jobs. It’s such a nice way to relax an prepare for what’s next.

    I think you should absolutely take a few months off to work on your side hustles. If it doesn’t mess up your career, it sounds like a great move. A lot of people dream of having that flexibility.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..Investing in Law School

    1. Emily says:

      I think as long as I have my next job lined up, it won’t derail my career at all and actually might help it. Being married is pretty awesome for providing this kind of flexibility – as long as you don’t want to take long breaks at the same time!

  2. Alicia says:

    I would highly suggest he take off a chunk of time between the two. I went straight from my undergrad into grad school. I even worked in my PhD supervisors lab the summer leading up to grad school. I defended my PhD while working full time in the university (not in a research lab, an additional role), flying across the country twice for job interviews, and ended up with a two week time period where I had two full time jobs. It will likely be easier for you and Kyle because you will be staying behind and the move won’t be everything for him, but even having enough time to comfortably move would be nice. I am now over six months into my new position, and I wish I had taken a month of downtime… Especially since I don’t know when I will get tha option again.
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    1. Emily says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience and for your advice! I think the time between PhD and the next job is possibly the best lifetime opportunity for a nice break. 🙂 I’m sorry that you didn’t get yours and you now wish you had had some time to reset. That is crazy that you actually had overlapping jobs!

  3. E 2 says:

    One of the reasons saving is such a priority for me is that my entire adult life has had fairly regular “breaks” – summers before and during grad school! Sort of breaks, anyway – I’m in a field research based discipline, so summer is when a lot of that gets done, but I’ve never had enough funding for it to cover my living expenses. I’ve always wound up taking about a month “off” to work on contract projects, which I also look at as valuable work experience, but since those come through pretty last minute, I always tried to save a livable chunk of my academic year stipend.

    Life got easier last summer, when I got a job opportunity that I decided was worth lost research time, and I plan to go back to it next year. That means we have last year’s “summer savings” sitting in our bank account to draw on for future short term gaps, and more money to save for other purposes from our current paychecks. That particular savings isn’t enough to support both of us or last for a long time (which is where the 9 month emergency fund comes in), but it would fill in the gap for one lost income.

    So it’s not difficult to plan for short breaks if you are living on less than you earn now, and accessible savings are important for medium and longer breaks. If Kyle lines up a job, feels burned out, and is prepping for a big move, maybe a break is something you can tweak your finances to prepare for in the next few months. I’m not sure about your break, because if you work in a lab year round, getting the time off might be more difficult than figuring out the financials, but you know your situation best!

    1. Emily says:

      This description brings a more full explanation to my mind of your current financial situation, so thanks! That’s great that you found that job last summer and can do it again. Why is it that summers are the time off for you if that is also when the work mostly gets done – are you TAing or doing something else that ties you to the academic school year?

      My break will probably have to happen after I defend, which is a ways off but probably would be motivation to get ‘er done!

      1. E 2 says:

        Yes, for my first three years I had to take a pretty heavy course load and do assistantships, which give us 9 months of funding but require being on campus. Last year I finally finished with classes and got to do more research during the school year, which gave me enough data to start analysis and writing this year.

        The idea of being done is very motivating, having a plan to look forward to even better!

  4. Mrs PoP says:

    We’ve taken time off between jobs – at least a week or two, often months. It just gives you a little time to get your stuff in order (especially if there is a move in there as well), so that you can start the new gig without having a ton of tiny obligations at the back of your mind. Full devotion to the job in the early months can pay dividends later.
    Mrs PoP recently posted..PoP Balance Sheet – October 2013

    1. Emily says:

      How many job transitions have you guys had? And were you ever job-hunting during that time?

      Great point about having a fresh start at a job. It would be amazing if we could even be done publishing with our PhD labs by the time we start our next jobs – there is often a lag with those final publications.

  5. Matt Becker says:

    Beyond vacations, the closest thing for me was the two weeks after our son was born. I was still in contact with people at work and doing little things here and there, but it was mostly just focused on being a dad. I think if you can afford it, it’s nice to be able to get away from time to time. Reminds me of Grayson’s post a couple of weeks ago about stepping back. Sometimes you get lost in the day to day and lose sight of what you’re really working for.
    Matt Becker recently posted..How to Start Investing From Scratch – Part 1

    1. Emily says:

      Two weeks only of paternity leave seems terribly short to me, especially if you are holding things together through remote communication. Have you been able to take substantial time away for vacations? The most we’ve had is about 2 weeks and we haven’t taken anything more than 1 day since last Christmas!

  6. Sara says:

    Absolutely. My line of work easily bleeds into weekend/evening/vacation time, so taking extended breaks between jobs (at least, early on in my career when my schedule is whatever I’m told) is really the best way to have a real chance away from work.

    1. Emily says:

      Do you anticipate changing jobs frequently? For us this is the first in 6 years!

  7. Leigh says:

    Absolutely! I plan to take 2-4 weeks off before I start my next job because I’ve definitely been burning out a bit.

    The last time I took a break of more than 2 weeks was between college and starting working and that was pretty boring because I was stuck at my parents’ house. I now live in a nice city (not that they don’t! but you needed a car to go anywhere) and have friends around, so it would be a lot more enjoyable of a break.

    I would probably spend a bit of time with my parents, some time reading, convince my boyfriend to use some of his vacation days and go somewhere together, and spend some time running and working out. If my injury isn’t better when I take that time off, it may be more time spent reading books…
    Leigh recently posted..October 2013 net worth update (+2.0%)

    1. Emily says:

      Do you have immediate plans for a job transition? I mean, before the grad school plan.

      That sounds like a great vacation/staycation! I would do much of the same, plus the writing.

  8. Kurt says:

    Whenever I change jobs, I’ve always made a point of trying to work a few weeks of free time in between. Ending one job Friday and starting a new job Monday is the pits! Absolutely nothing wrong with taking a bit of a break to ‘get your mind right’, if you can afford it.
    Kurt recently posted..Layaway Program Update

    1. Emily says:

      How do you plan for those transitions in your budget?

  9. I personally haven’t taken breaks in between jobs, and go right from one to the other (usually having my last day on a Friday and starting my new job on a Monday). That’s just me though: I can see the benefit of a break.

    As for a planned break without another job lined up, I’m just one of those people who probably couldn’t really relax for that period of time without understanding where my future income would come from. As such, I’d probably be a bad entrepreneur, wherein all my income would be unknown. 🙂
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    1. Emily says:

      Why do you prefer to not take a break even if you have your next contract signed?

      1. I typically find that my paid vacation through work is enough “downtime” for me to not want additional, unpaid downtime. That’s all. I typically don’t buy additional vacation time, either, with jobs (though my coworkers do). I get about 4 to 5 weeks a year and find that to be plenty, especially since I only work 5 days out of 7.
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  10. SarahN says:

    I’ve ‘not really’ done this – I went from studying to working, with a month or so gap, I think. I’ve been working 5 years almost, but the benefit I have in Australia is that we get 4 weeks annual leave a year, so I can and do take 3 week holidays. I find that works well to recharge me and then come back to the same job.

    If your only reason you wanted to take a break was to work on your side hustle/blogging, I might suggest something closer to my current work schedule – I work a little more each day and I have one day off in two weeks. It’s how the company is structured, but it means I get a whole day to myself. I know if I took longer batches of time off, my productivity might take a dive, but these days every now and then (and sometimes I save them up and use a few together) would probably work better for me
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    1. Emily says:

      We would probably feel differently about these breaks if we had been taking more/longer vacations already. And who knows, maybe after we finally get a longer vacation Kyle will decide that he doesn’t need the break between jobs. We don’t have vacation limits in grad school but we don’t take advantage as much as we should.

      Unfortunately I don’t have as structured a work schedule as you do – I think that would be nice to set aside a day just for writing/blogging. For my own productivity I prefer shorter days so I’m willing to work 5-6 days per week to make that happen. Recently I have had so much to do that I’m working 7 days per week and much longer hours per day. Even my cooking has suffered!

  11. Yes, but in the South we have to call it Faculty Development Leave because “sabbatical” is illegal. Of course, I actually work through that even if I’m not getting paid. Heck, I work through the summer without getting paid.
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    1. Emily says:

      Oh, I didn’t realize that southern universities had anything against sabbaticals! I’m talking about a pretty different kind of sabbatical than an academic would take, though – I’ve never seen an academic take a sabbatical that wasn’t to do research or teach somewhere else. And I thought they did get paid, although I suppose from a different source?

      1. It isn’t Southern universities, it is Southern state legislatures. It’s illegal at the state level. You can take an unpaid FDL and it’s common to be offered half pay for the year if you take a year off for FDL, though the amount of pay varies (one of my friends gets 80% for the full year).

        In Kyle’s case, if he wants to stay in academia he probably should keep working, paid or not. Work on as many papers, experiments, and grant proposals as he can before switching labs. It’s very competitive out there. But if he really wants a vacation he should take it if the alternative is burning out. If he doesn’t want to go into academia after this post-doc his publication and grant record probably isn’t as important.

        And yes, academics generally only take working sabbaticals. But if he’s going between grad school and a post-doc, he’s an academic too.
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        1. Emily says:

          Thanks for the clarification and I appreciate your input. There’s only a small chance Kyle will want to go the academic route (smaller than the chance he’ll skip the postdoc and go straight into industry) so I don’t think he’s too concerned about being a publishing/grant-winning superstar. I’ll ask him to re-evaluate the question of whether to take a break and how long of one (he obviously needs some kind of gap because he’ll be moving!) after he knows where the postdoc will be and we get in a decent vacation. 🙂

  12. I would love to take a sabbatical, however, my fear would be that it would be a detriment to my career. I wouldn’t want any potential employers looking at my resume and wondering about that gap. Even though it’s easily explained, it would still make me nervous.

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t think employers would notice a gap of a few months, especially if you measure your employment length in years instead of months!

  13. All the more reason to absolutely love doing what you do and be excited to get up and go to work every day – so that you don’t get burnt out!

    1. Emily says:

      Hmmm, I guess I have to disagree! Kyle loves his job and I tolerate my job, yet he identifies as more burned out than I am. I think it’s just that he’s been on the same projects for so long that he wants to apply his skills to a different system.

  14. My dad used to say that retirement is backward. He said we should all get a ten year sabbatical when we are young and then work until we no longer can. He hadn’t really thought out where the money to live off of would come from, but when I asked him, he said that was a trifling detail.
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    1. Emily says:

      Um, isn’t that what childhood and adolescence (and now, adultescence) are??

  15. I’ve taken a couple weeks in between jobs, but my extended period of “break” was during a layoff in 2009 – and I hope to never get that kind of a “break” again!

    I’m like you – I’m wary of quitting something without something else lined up, although I imagine as I grow more in my career and achieve more financial security that fear will be mitigated somehow. There are folks in my company that take a month or two month off for leaves of absences, but you will have to earn that through building up a strong reputation and putting in the hours first.
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    1. Emily says:

      A forced break due to being laid off without something lined up would be incredibly stressful and I certainly don’t want that for us!

      The lesson I learned from my father’s unemployment was that even if your skills are valuable, the surrounding environment (i.e. the economy) can totally throw a wrench into employers seeing your value. Think of the hiring freezes of the past few years!

      That’s interesting that your company grants leaves of absences – how many years do you have to be with the company before that’s allowed?

  16. dojo says:

    I have my own business and LOVE it, so being away from it for more than few days would drive me nuts. We do take 2-3 week vacations each year, but I still do some ‘maintenance’ every few days. I get bored otherwise.
    If he needs the break though, let him have it 😉

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like a great situation! I think whether one needs a break definitely depends on your personality as much as your job. If I had a job that allowed me more balance (it has in the past, just not now) I don’t think I would want the break.

  17. I haven’t taken off time between jobs because I hadn’t been able to afford to do so but I feel like with my next job I just might. My brother once told me about a friend who gave his two weeks notice before going on a two week vacation…
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    1. Emily says:

      Ouch, that does leave his employer in a bit of a bind if he had to wrap things up or train the next person! I definitely get wanting to use up your vacation but couldn’t he have given 4 weeks notice?

  18. […] from Evolving Personal Finance presents Would You Take a Break from Working?, and says, “When you change jobs, do you take a few weeks or months off? Would you if you […]

  19. eemusings says:

    Now would seem as good a time as any, while you don’t have too many commitments. I was definitely burning out a bit before we left to travel the world, and have come back a LOT more refreshed.
    eemusings recently posted..Embrace the lazy: The importance of rest days on the road

    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad to hear that you are refreshed!

  20. […] But when I heard that my advisor wants me out next summer and I know that I may or may not know by that time what city Kyle’s postdoc will be in, I started to freak out a bit.  I can’t imagine starting a search for an unknown job type in an unknown city!  I’ll almost certainly be unemployed for a while, though not in the way I wanted to be. […]

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